As Nick Cave continues to make himself known as an agony uncle of sorts, having used his Red Hand files to answer questions and queries from his fans directly, his esteem only grows larger and larger as he displays the kind of open authenticity that we all love to see in our rock stars. But, in truth, Cave has been doing that for a long time. Today, we sit back and listen to his 1999 lecture in Vienna, ‘Secret Life of the Love Song’, a seminar in which Cave dissects the intricacies of writing a love song.
The lecture was delivered as part of the 1999 poetry festival in Vienna and sees Cave in his absolute prime. Not only has Cave been a very astute and creative writer, both in song and novel form in his past, but the singer’s father was a professor of literature — so it’s clearly in the blood. But perhaps the most notable moment of this discussion is Cave’s authority on the matter. Not necessarily known for his lovey-dovey attitude, Cave has written some of the most romantic songs in rock history.
In the talk, Cave opens up about the many-faceted feeling of love and how best to capture it within a song. He contemplates the darker side of love in an even darker world but also goes on to quote W.H. Auden and Federico Garcia Lorca, calling them “a howl in the void, for Love and for comfort.” Cave continues to suggest that the love song “lives on the lips of the child crying for its mother. It is the song of the lover in need of her loved one, the raving of the lunatic supplicant petitioning his God.”
A natural born thinker, Cave continues to theorise that tracks should always have a pearl of intrigue and pain, even when one is writing love songs. Referencing songs written about his ex, the incredible PJ Harvey, in particular, Cave suggests that they should hurt just a little to make the love at the centre of the song shine a little brighter.
“All love songs must contain duende (a Spanish term for heightened emotion). For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain.” It is this theory that Cave has taken into all of his work and has rightly seen him take his position as one of the rock world’s most emotive and expressive songwriters.
In the audio clip below, Cave also muses on the value of what many people would deem as cheesy pop songs, as well as some stone-cold classics including songs from Bob Dylan, Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ and, of course, the Old Testament, all of which contain flecks of the perfect love song in Cave’s eyes.
While Cave admits he is “happy to be sad,” and seems intent to live in “divine discontent” he also argues that love songs, and music in general, relieve him of this perceived misery with every listen. It’s a cathartic notion that has made Cave a deeply authentic artist.
Listen back to Nick Cave’s 1999 lecture on love songs, below.